Thursday, June 11, 2015

The conundrum of wider horizons and narrower systems

The current imbroglio over Tor and the actions and words of some of its senior executives is highlighting yet again a conundrum that affects many areas of our lives.

Our potential horizons have been broadened immensely by the Internet.  We have at our fingertips a wealth of data and information for which scholars of old would cheerfully have killed.


Our personal systems of thought and social circles have by and large narrowed and contracted.  We increasingly choose to associate, both in meatspace and online, only with those who share our interests, and use the immense resources available to us only in connection with what we learn and experience through that association.  We don't use it to broaden our horizons by looking more widely.

I'm watching this play out on both sides of the Tor debate as we speak.  There are many on the Left and on the Right who are talking about the problem only with those of their own ilk, reinforcing each others' perspectives, acting as a sort of echo chamber that drowns out other opinions.  I suppose most of the publishers in the USA suffer from the same problem, because they're headquartered in the same place (New York), staffed largely by people from that locality, and intrinsically unable to conceive of an America (let alone a world) that's different to that environment and where people have different opinions and outlooks.

Another casualty of this is objective truth.  For far too many people today truth is relative, dependent on the standards and perspectives to which they cleave in their daily lives.  The thought that something is definitively, actually, concretely either true or false is completely foreign to many people.  This is perhaps the greatest hazard of the polarization of opinion that's taken place over the past few decades.  "What's true for you may not be true for me" is an out-and-out lieActual truth is, and can only be, absolute.  It is measured against fact, against reality.  If it can't be so measured, then it's not a case of being true or false - it's a matter of opinion.  However, far too many people can't or won't accept that.

This is why one side can categorize Sad or Rabid Puppies as 'neo-Nazi' or 'racist' or 'bigoted' or whatever.  Those words are defined on their own terms, not in relation to reality.  Anyone with a couple of brain cells to rub together and an interest in history can define what actually made a Nazi a Nazi.  However, most people don't bother to do that research.  They merely parrot the 'Nazi' label as it's spoon-fed to them, and in time come to believe it, even though it's factually false.  On the Puppy side of the fence, I've seen far too many people categorize all SJW's as liars, communists, socialists, deluded, whatever.  I've no doubt some of them are, but not all of them - and if we refuse to look at our opponents as individuals, lumping them instead into categories or groups or races or ethnicities, aren't we doing the same as both Communists and Nazis did?  They demonized "the bourgeoisie" or "the kulaks" or "the Jews" or "the Communists", and treated them as subhuman, disposable groups.  (There was precious little to choose between Hitler and Stalin, between the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet gulags.)  Both sides disposed of those they demonized without consideration for their individual humanity.  Aren't we at risk of doing the same to our opponents, at least in our minds?

I already know that the extremists on both sides will scoff at me for saying that.  "You can't compromise with evil!"  "It's no good talking to bigots!"  "If you're not for us, you're against us!"  "If you're not against them, you're for them!"  Trouble is, who defines evil?  Who defines what is or is not a bigot?  What gives anyone the right to define my beliefs or attitudes or opinions on my behalf?  The answer, of course, is "Nothing and no-one" . . . but that won't stop them trying.

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham tells the rich man:  "Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us."  Sometimes I fear that gulf is now firmly established in the middle of the SF/F community (and is, of course, a mere reflection of the gulf established in our wider society).  How to bridge it?  Can it even be bridged at all?  Or are we doomed to repeat the catastrophes and disasters of historical conflict all over again?  Your guess is as good as mine . . .




Mark/GreyLocke said...

This is just a personal belief, but I feel that most of the Anti-Puppy Hysteria is from Lazy people who want to feel outrage and to lash out, but are too lazy to actually do the research and learn the Truth as it will discomfit them and their beliefs.

Curtis said...

There are some really tired overused words out there and it really would be for the best, for all of us, if people simply stopped labeling people with contemptuous and hate filled words. I can't see how referring to a class of people as SJWs is in any way hurtful but when they lash out at all they use the hate words of choice, nazi, fascist, misogynist, bigot, etc.

As Bill Murray's character might have said, they're asking for a punch in the mouth.

It's difficult to take them too seriously. They wear the most wine colored glasses and have the most anti-Panglossian attitude towards life, the universe and everything. I make it a point to never take people who are serious, seriously. Casting words like evil spells is an invitation to fight. They shouldn't be surprised when they find themselves on the ground with a fat lip.

Anonymous said...

Humans are tribal. When one (ANY) tribal population is forced to interact with another by a central authority the "isms" you protest are the only possible result. War, violence and cruelty are the natural state of man. "Peace" is an imposed condition, as is any governmental authority higher than the strong man with the biggest spear , in the biggest hut up the path. Like most ultra-religious you grasp for a utopian ideal that can never exist in the real world. That lust to manifest an utopian ideal, is WHY we have Stalin's and Hitler's , Mao Zee Dong's and death camps. Its why we had a boob like Obama imposed on us by those who think themselves our "betters" and why we stand poised on the edge of the greatest bloodletting the nation, and the world , have ever known. Its why we have religion and politics , law and government. "Human goodness" is temporary and highly localized . "Human evil" is the norm and far more widespread and BOTH are based in obsessive self interest. As a very wise friend once observed "Da humans all be crazy". Everything else is a lie we tell ourselves so we can sleep.---Ray

Bob said...

"... why we stand poised on the edge of the greatest bloodletting the nation, and the world, have ever known."

That would be laughable if it were not true.

But the unsustainable pressure of seven billion people pushing against each other for power, position and resources makes it terrifyingly true.

I can do absolutely nothing about it, nor can you, the government, any government, or any individual group. The pressure is there, it's real, it exists and it cannot be talked or wished away. Only the death of billions will reduce it.

At 76, I hope it holds off long enough for me to be dead and buried, or cremated, or thrown in the trash before it happens.

Can you hide and protect you and yours when it happens? Perhaps, if you are smart, lucky, and near food and water. But your chances of long-term survival are nil.

Enjoy the lights while they are still on.

RAH said...

Just to mention that due to this contretemps that I have run into authors I never knew and have tried them out. Due to your post that you have had enough of the vile name calling that the commenters on File 770 and other the FB comments of Tor aficionados, I discover you.

So yesterday I bought the Take the Star Road . It is well written though bit long on detail, however I am enjoying it. I decided to take the plunge because the blurb had a classic young man adventure on a star freighter or what was in Andre Norton's fiction a tramp freighter.

I grew up reading the older fiction since my father had it. from James Schmitz to Azimov and AA van Vogt. My mother said she had read Slan when she was pregnant with my older brother in 1949. She worried he would have tentagles. Her fist child.

I liked the Weapons Shops of Isher and bought the reprint when it came out about 6-7 years ago.

AS to Tor, They and DAW had great fiction and was a reliable brand. But after they got a presence with the silliness began with cis gender this and that. I do not recall the silly author of that piece but after demanding that all authors not to write female and male characters I figured the end as near. I figured she was young female who has bought into this deny reality crap. Now the campuses have gotten so toxic It is the same mind think.

It really is unbelievable that so many think it is all right to call people racist , sexist homophobic without a shred of evidence This is an attempt to destroy reputations. So
I have no symapathy for Ms. Gallo. She was so casual spreading scurrous rumor and lies.

She has no idea that her utterances is bigoted. I feel sorry for Tom Doherty but he allowed his company to enable that toxic culture.

tweell said...

Our Lord said to turn the other cheek. I am a sinner, not a saint, and I am tired of turning the other cheek. So far, all it has gotten me is sore cheeks.